MANGALURU: Coastal Karnataka offers something for travellers of all kinds — temples, beaches, historical sites. Now the region is set to attract tourists with mangrove tourism.
The state government’s forest department in 2011 had started the ‘Green Wall’ project to restore mangroves from Ullal in Mangaluru to Mazali in Karwar, covering a distance of 306 km. The project was taken up with the aim to prevent sea erosion and reduce intensity of tsunamis. This is in fact the biggest mangrove forests along the western coast and the forest department is working towards extending it in the coming months. Forest officials from Maharashtra and Gujarat too have been studying the project to implement the same in those states.
Five years since the project was initiated, the mangrove forests have grown thick along 15 rivers in the state’s three coastal districts. Many tourists coming into Goa are now making their way further down south towards Honnavar in Uttara Kannada district, Byndoor in Udupi, and Ullal and along the Shambhavi river in Dakshina Kannada district to take boat rides into mangrove forests. It is yet to become a mainstream tourism activity, but tourism experts feel the trend is catching up.
Mangrove tourism has picked up on the estuary of Kali River near Sadashivgadh where the river meets the Arabian Sea, along the rivers Sharavati, Gurupur-Netravathi, Shambhavi, Kalyanpur and Souparnika.
R Gokul, Chief Conservator of Forests, told Express, “Mangroves are one of the most important features of the coastal ecosystem. Its intertwined network of roots are breeding centres for varieties of marine and river fish. These are only a few things we know about mangroves. Through eco-tourism around mangroves, it will help researchers study more about this ecosystem.”
“Only a few acres of mangroves are open for tourism as any human activity can slow down breeding of fish,” he added. A boat ride away from Sadashivgadh in Karwar is an island where the forest department had planted mangroves a few years back. The fishermen here call it the ‘Devara Kadu’ (sacred groves) and they are happy that the department has taken efforts to restore the mangroves.
“The fishermen know the importance of mangroves and they have made efforts to regenerate the forest, but due to lack of knowledge and resources it could not be done. In their community, mangroves are sacred,” said Vishnu Sawanth Bhonsle, chief of the Kali Matha temple on the island.
Mangroves are also known for their carbon absorbing powers. “They draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ingest it. This is why leaves of the plants fall even when they are green. The leaves that fall down create aquatic humus and oxidise the marine waters, which become breeding grounds for fish,” said Jayakar Bhandary, a scientist based in Karwar.
Fishermens’ organisations in Mazali in Karwar, Kodi in Kundapur, Ullal in Mangaluru and Yermal in Udupi district have constantly fought against the cutting down of mangrove forests. For more than 20 years, mangroves have been destroyed for commercial interests like prawn culture farms.